As cold fall/winter weather chases Montanans back indoors most of the time, many among us will soon be complaining of colds, allergies or flu. One important reason for the increase in sickness occurring during this season is exposure to poor indoor air quality which compromises the body’s immune system. Humans simply were not designed to spend 90% of our time stuck indoors processing stagnant, polluted air. Even though contaminants are not visible, many of these can be detected inside most homes to some degree.
Much scientific research confirms that the stagnant air people breathe indoors can pose various health risks when pollutants such as chemicals, flue or cooking gases, bacteria and mold toxins accumulate in today’s super insulated buildings. These pollutants can cause physical problems such as sore eyes, burning in the nose and throat, head and body aches or fatigue. Other pollutants can cause or aggravate allergies, respiratory illnesses such as asthma, heart disease, cancer and numerous other conditions.
Some pollutants, such as carbon monoxide, when forming in high concentrations can very quickly cause death. Carbon monoxide in lower concentrations though will cause symptoms including dull headache, dizziness, confusion or paranoia, and nausea. Indoor air hazards are numerous and should be taken very seriously! If you notice symptoms like those described, please investigate immediately and fix indoor air issues. To be safe, install a carbon monoxide alarm on each level of your home.
Causes of Indoor Air Pollution
Unhealthy pollutants find their way indoors from a variety of sources. Here are some of the more common pollutants detected indoors. Through the season we’ll address each of these air problems in more detail and discuss how you can avoid or reduce their negative effects.
Mold – When water dampens or saturates surfaces in your home, mold growth can occur. Molds will frequently trigger asthma and allergies through their spores or mycotoxins. Long term sensitivity, chronic sinus infections or even permanent lung damage is possible. Mold testing is advised when musty smells persist or residents develop asthma after water spills in a structure. Mold can hide in many places within a home or business setting.
Combustion pollutants – Carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide can come from improperly vented or unvented fuel burning appliances such as space heaters, gas stoves, water heaters, dryers, grills and fireplaces. Have a periodic HVAC inspection done to assure that carbon monoxide is not a risk to your family.
Radon – Radon is a radioactive gas that is released from underground and is the second leading cause of lung cancer. It can enter your home through cracks and openings in floors and walls that are in contact with the ground. Radon may also be released into a home from well water.
Cigarettes – Smoking cigarettes indoors can pollute your home with harmful secondhand smoke. To improve air quality, forbid smoking indoors, or flush the house frequently with fresh air by opening windows and doors. New e-cigarettes may be proven a lesser hazard.
Chemicals – Many cleaning compounds and aerosols contain harsh and reactive chemicals. Consider using homemade mixes of vinegar or baking soda which don’t off gas and damage sensitive respiratory tissues.
Formaldehyde and VOC’s – These chemical compounds are emitted from building materials like plywood or carpeting and paints and have long term health impacts including allergies and cancers.
Asbestos and silica– These mineral fibers and dusts are a very serious and proven cause of lung cancers. Contrary to common belief building materials still are sold which contain asbestos. Silica is in all kinds of products used in home construction.
Lead – As older paints degrade or demolition from remodeling makes them airborne, lead settles on surfaces. It is particularly dangerous to the nervous systems of children.
Dusts and allergens – The historic curse of every housekeeper, dust from soils tracked into the house or dander from people and pets, dust mites, mold spores. Dusts are controlled by frequent and deep cleaning. Carpets, upholstery and hard surface cleaning using quality HEPA grade vacuums will go a long way toward reducing allergy symptoms and respiratory disease. Continuous air filtration is an excellent addition to a home’s HVAC system. Regular cleaning of furnace ducts and filters is important as well.
Want to know more? Check out this good information at EPA.gov http://www.epa.gov/iaq/is-build2.html
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